LARAMIE, Wyo. — With an interception and blocked punt returned for touchdowns in the first half, Utah’s defense and special teams put this one away before the offense got in on the fun.
Sean Smith returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown four minutes into the game, and Matt Asiata ran for a touchdown and caught another as the 14th-ranked Utes beat punchless Wyoming 40-7 on Saturday.
Playing in a gusty and biting wind, Utah (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West) remained undefeated, having no problem clearing this hurdle on it way to what the Utes hope will be another run to the BCS after needing a last-second field goal to beat Oregon State last week.
“We think we’re heading in the right direction,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But you know we have not played our best football as a team to this point.”
Wyoming (2-5, 0-4) lost its fourth straight game, but managed to avoid being shut out for the third time this season.
Brian Johnson was 10-for-19 for 110 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for Utah, and Asiata added 37 yards on 11 carries. Smith had two interceptions, including one in the end zone that thwarted one of the few Wyoming socring chances.
Johnson said the Utes didn’t risk overlooking the Cowboys and won’t look past other Mountain West opponents like Colorado State, which Utah plays next week in Salt Lake City.
“The thing is we’ve lost to every conference opponent since I’ve been here,” Johnson said. “There’s not a team in this conference that hasn’t beat us before, so we have to know that if we don’t come out and play our game every week that everything that we’ve worked for kind of goes down the drain.”
Wyoming’s Karsten Sween, one of four quarterbacks to play for the Cowboys, was 8-for-18 for 52 yards and three interceptions. Devin Moore led Wyoming with 106 yards on 23 carries.
Wyoming’s offensive woes continued as the Cowboys turned the ball over five times, gained 252 total yards and converted 2-for-13 on third down. The Cowboys’ only score came midway through the fourth quarter when third-string quarterback Chris Stutzreim found receiver Greg Bolling in the end zone with a lofting 18-yard pass.
“We need to find a guy that can throw the ball,” Wyoming coach Joe Glenn said. “I thought Karsten (Sween), being the veteran guy, was in the best position to do that, but we will look at our quarterbacks and evaluate who we think can best help us win some games.”
With the wind whipping scraps of paper across the field, both offenses concentrated on rushing and short passes. Wyoming gained 184 yards rushing to Utah’s 123.
“Wind is more damaging to an offense than rain or snow,” Whittingham said. “When you get the stiff wind like that it’s very difficult to throw the football in either direction.
Utah built a 33-0 lead early in the third quarter when Johnson, rolling to the right, found Asiata for a 13-yard touchdown pass.
The Utes added their final touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Wyoming’s Tashaun Gipson brushed, but failed to catch, a punt by Utah and the ball rolled into the Wyoming end zone, where R.J. Rice fell on it to put Utah up 40-7.
Wyoming’s best field position of the game came off a muffed Utah punt midway through the third quarter. But the Utah defense held Wyoming for three downs, and Sween’s fourth down pass attempt was intercepted by Smith in the end zone and returned to the Utah 31.
Utah led 27-0 at halftime, fueled by defense and special teams. Wyoming threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, leading to three Utah scores.
Utah’s defense opened the scoring four minutes into the game when Smith snagged a tipped pass and scrambled 25 yards through Wyoming’s lunging offensive players for a touchdown.
Later in the second quarter, Utah’s Aiona Key burst through the Wyoming line to block Austin McCoy’s punt at Wyoming’s 5. Key collected the bouncing the ball and darted into the end zone to make it 19-0 with about 9 minutes left in the first half.
Utah’s offense added to the scoring when Asiata barreled 3 yards into the end zone to make it 26-0 in the closing seconds of the first half.
Utah’s Louie Sakoda added field goals of 50 yards and 39 yards in the first half.